The Apostle Paul: His Secret to Fighting Sexual Sin

THE APOSTLE PAUL: HIS SECRET TO FIGHTING SEXUAL SIN

Luke Gilkerson

Hugh Hefner didn’t invent sexual sin. It is a problem that has been around since our ancestors walked east of Eden, and it will be around until the new Jerusalem descends upon us. The good news is that the Bible promises that we can experience foretastes of that coming freedom in the here and now. But how?

The Apostle Paul commands the Christians at Colossae, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). But how do we do this? If we rip this verse away from the letter, we’re likely to apply it the wrong way, so we need to look closely to understand what Paul is talking about.

1. Fighting Sexual Sin Is Not About “Do More, Try Harder”

A dangerous philosophy was circulating in the church at Colossae that was championing asceticism: if you want to remain pure, then separate yourself from the pleasures of the body that are so often a source of temptation. This philosophy said if you really want the fullness of divine life within you, then insulate your life.

But Paul delivers a crushing blow to this philosophy:

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:20-23)

No value. That is Paul’s verdict on asceticism. It simply doesn’t work. Yes, there is a grain of truth in the philosophy—all popular philosophies contain at least some wisdom in them. If you are tempted to sin sexually then it makes sense to get away from sexual temptations. This will keep sin at bay—but ultimately the flesh remains unsatiated.

This false philosophy is still circulating in the church today. When the best advice we can give people is better Internet filters, cold showers, more hours in prayer, and trying harder, we have given into this philosophy that Paul says is of no value.

This false philosophy either totally underestimates the power of sin, or it sets the benchmark of holiness too low. It either doesn’t get just how ingrained sexual sin is in us, or it thinks that merely getting rid of outward, blatant sexual sin is the goal. Neither is accurate.

2. Fighting Sexual Sin Starts with a New Identity

Paul offers his readers another approach to fighting sin, and it starts with these core identity statements:

  • “With Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world” (2:20)
  • “You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (3:3)
  • “You have been raised with Christ” (3:1)
  • “You were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead” (2:12)
  • “You have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self” (3:9-10)
  • “The riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (1:27)

This is where a lot of modern readers check out. “Don’t give me these abstract theological ideas. I need something practical,” they think. But for Paul, there was nothing more practical, nothing more life-changing, than these ideas.

We are united to the risen Christ by faith. His resurrection life flows in our veins now. The Spirit of the living Christ lives inside us, so we no longer belong to this world and the rules it plays by—we belong to Christ and the age to come. In order to have the power to fight lust, we first have to understand this: we no longer belong to sin. We belong to God who has accepted us and forgiven us, not because we purified ourselves first, but because we are united by faith to the Pure One, Jesus Christ.

In order to fight lust, we must understand that we no longer belong to lust.

3. Fighting Sexual Sin Continues by Kindling New Desires

Knowing we are united to the living Christ, Paul writes, “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (3:1-2). The terms Paul uses here mean to center one’s interests, focus, and passions on something—to savor something. Now that God has united us to the risen Christ, we savor that reality, and this kindles new desires in us that displace a desire for sin.

What are these “things” above that we should savor?

  • First, we are to savor Christ himself. This is one of the reasons why Paul spills a lot of ink in this letter describing who Christ is. He is the beloved Son of God (1:13), the image of the invisible God (1:15), creator and sustainer of all things (1:16-17), the one whose blood reconciles us to the Father (1:20), the firstborn from the dead (1:18), and the one seated at God’s right hand (3:1). In him all the riches of wisdom and knowledge are hidden (2:3). The fullness of deity dwells in Him (1:19; 2:9).
  • Second, we are to savor our new position before God. Christ is seated at God’s right hand and we are seated with Him (Ephesians 2:6). To be seated at a ruler’s right hand meant to be in the position of greatest authority, honor, and delight. Because Christ is in us, we share in the favor He has with the Father.
  • Third, we are to savor the hope that someday we will see and experience these realities. Someday, Christ Himself will appear and we will appear with Him in glory (1:4). It is our destiny to be like the holy, pure Son of God. Someday our eyes will see the one who died for us and rose again, the one who is God in the flesh, and God will honor us as his royal children before every creature, every human soul, every angelic being in the universe.

How does this practically help us to fight sexual sin? The reason why sexual sin can have such a grip on us is because of its power to define us and what is most valuable, how sexual pleasure makes us feel about ourselves. Sexual fantasy, pornography, or pursuing illicit sex makes us feel desired; it makes us feel valued and validated; it gives us a refuge; it gives us connection; it can even make us feel powerful. This is why setting our affections on things above is so important: it gives us a new center to our lives and gives us a completely new sense of value—not based in our worthiness but based on the love God has for Christ that overflows to us.

4. Fighting Sexual Sin Is About Fighting For Our New Desires

Finally we come to Colossians 3:5, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”

Paul here is not endorsing asceticism—something he has already refuted. Asceticism is about fighting to get rid of something we think is unholy, but mortifying sin is about fighting for the new affections that God is giving to us.

We can construct helpful boundaries in our lives that keeps sexual sin out of reach, but we should do so standing on our identity as God’s beloved children, standing satisfied in Christ and God’s love. When sexual temptation comes knocking, we can say to it, “No, sin. That’s not who I am anymore. You do not define what life is to me anymore. You do not define me anymore. Christ is in me. I am a child of the king, and one day the whole world will know it.”

5. Fighting Sexual Sin Is Sustained by Relationships that Remind Us of Our New Identity

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).

This is the essence of real accountability in the body of Christ. Yes, accountability involves confessing our temptations, sins, and the state of our heart, but it also involves godly encouragement. Accountability is not just about someone calling you out on your sin, but someone calling you up to the person you already are in Christ. Accountability is about surrounding yourself with the kind of Christian friendships that teach and admonish you, that inspire thankfulness, and that help us unpack all the wisdom contained in the great mystery that Paul called “Christ in us, the hope of glory” (1:27).

Accountability is like stoking the embers of the fire. It does not add energy to the embers. It only exposes those embers to the air so new reactions can happen. When we engage in the disciplines of confession, encouragement, and mutual prayer we expose our souls again to the life-changing gospel, and God’s power is released again and again.

How to Change the Way You Feel (Without Changing Anything Else)

HOW TO CHANGE THE WAY YOU FEEL (WITHOUT CHANGING ANYTHING ELSE)

Marc Chernoff

Happiness does not start with a relationship, a degree, a job, or money.  It starts with your thinking and what you tell yourself today.

“I had a date scheduled for last night with this guy I started talking to on a dating app.  I waited outside the diner where we agreed to meet for 30 minutes past the time we were supposed to meet.  He never showed up.  All sorts of negative thoughts were running through my head.  I thought maybe he saw me from a distance, didn’t like what he saw, and then bailed.

Just as I was about to leave, one of my old college friends, Jared, who I haven’t seen in nearly a decade, walked up to me with a huge smile on his face and said, ‘Carly!  It’s great to see you!  You look fantastic!’  I almost blew him off because of how I felt inside at the moment.  But luckily I pulled myself together to engage in a conversation.

After we talked in that same spot for awhile, he said, ‘What are you doing for dinner?’  We ended up going into the diner I was supposed to eat at with the no-show date and having an amazing conversation filled with laughter.  After dinner he walked me to my car, we exchanged numbers, and he asked me out on a formal date for this Friday night.”

Our Stories Make or Break Us

The story above comes from Carly, one of our recent Think Better, Live Better 2019 attendees (and of course, we’re sharing her story with permission).

Think about how her initial reaction was rooted so heavily in negativity.  Her date didn’t show up and she immediately crumbled inside.  Now think about the amazing opportunity she would have missed if she had let that negativity endure.  And think about how often your negativity gets the best of you.

How often do let your insecurities stop you?

Or, how often do you judge others for their imperfections?

What you need to realize right now is that you have a story about yourself and others (or perhaps a series of stories) that you recite to yourself daily.  This is your mental movie, and it’s a feature film that plays on repeat in your mind.  Your movie is about who you are and how the world is supposed to be: your tummy is too flabby, your skin is too dark or too pale, you aren’t smart, you aren’t lovable… you aren’t good enough.  And of course, you catch yourself picking out all sorts of imperfections in others, and the world at large, too.

Start to pay attention when your movie plays—when you feel anxiety about being who you are or facing the realities of life—because it affects everything you do.  Realize that this movie isn’t real, it isn’t true, and it isn’t you.  It’s just a train of thought that can be stopped—a script that can be rewritten.

Ready to rewrite the script?

Let’s start by being honest… Sometimes negativity absolutely dominates our better judgment!

So, how do we outsmart our own negative tendencies so we can feel better, behave better, and ultimately live better?  There are many ways, but Angel and I often recommend two simple (but not easy) practices:

1.  Practice questioning your stories.

You know what they say, don’t believe everything you hear nor everything you read.  Don’t believe the gossip columns in every magazine, the doom and gloom predictions from your co-workers, or the “shocking news” that you hear on TV… until you have verified it.

Well, the same concept applies to your inside world—your thoughts.

We all have stories about ourselves and others even if we don’t think of them as stories.  Case in point:  How often do you pause to logically contemplate what you really think about your relationships, your habits, or your challenges?  How often, on the other hand, do you just blurt out whatever fleeting emotion comes to mind—i.e., the pre-recorded movie script you’ve been holding on to—without even thinking straight?

Stories can be short, such as “I’m not a good writer,” “I’m not good at yoga,” or “I have intrinsic relationship problems.”  And if we were to dig deeper into your own personal version of these stories, I bet you’d be happy to go on and try to explain why the stories you’ve been holding onto are real.  Even though the aren’t.  They’re just stories.

So the key practice here is to question your stories.  For instance, let’s take the writer example.  Ask yourself: Why do I think I am not a good writer?  What would it look like to be a good writer?  Can I describe my current writing in a way that serves me better?

You will be surprised by how often the questioning process helps you emerge with a clearer and more accurate version of your story.  Give it a try!

2.  Practice running your thoughts through three key filters.

Sometimes you are in a hurry, and not having a great day to boot.  On days like this, there’s a mental conditioning exercise I recommend that’s super quick and can help keep your attitude in check…

I’ve been in arguments with my my wife, Angel, in the past and one of the things I certainly regretted was not filtering my words before saying them.  At the time of these arguments, I did not have the right tools, except for thinking “Be nice!”, which does nothing for you when you’re feeling the opposite of nice.  Some years later I found this simple tool that helped me shift my behavior.  Here’s how it works:

Before you utter anything, run your thoughts through three key filters and don’t speak unless you get three resounding “YES” responses:

  • Is it true?
  • Is it kind?
  • Is it helpful?

For example, let’s say a running thought in your head says that your partner doesn’t care about you, and you are about to shout those words out because he or she didn’t do the last chore you requested.  Question that thought first: Is it true that my partner doesn’t care about me?  Is it kind for me to say or think this?  Is it helpful for me to say or think this?

Remember you can’t take your words back.  What’s more, you will never regret behaving in a true, kind and helpful way down the road.  So make it a ritual in your life in the days and weeks ahead.

Now, it’s your turn…

Leverage the two practices above to gradually rewrite the script of your mental movie.  Learn to recognize the worn-out flicker of your old movie starting up, and then stop it.  Seriously!  Whenever you catch yourself reciting lines from your old script (“My arms are flabby…” or “My spouse deserves the silent treatment…”), flip the script and replace those lines with truer, kinder and more helpful ones.  This takes some practice, but it’s worth it.  Just keep practicing, and forgiving yourself for making mistakes along the way.

And keep in mind that various kinds of external negativity will attempt to distract you from your new script and your better judgment—comments from family, news anchors, social media posts… lots of things other people say and do.  When you sense negativity coming at you, learn to deflect it.  Give it a small push back with a thought like, “That remark is not really about me, it’s about you.”  Remember that all people have emotional issues they’re dealing with (just like you), and it makes them difficult and thoughtless sometimes.  They are doing the best they can, or they’re not even aware of their issues.  In any case, you can learn not to interpret their behaviors as personal attacks, and instead see them as non-personal encounters (like an obnoxious little dog barking in the distance) that you can either respond to gracefully, or not respond to at all.

So, what was your biggest takeaway from this short article?

Anything else to share?

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